Attracting Customers In The Eisenhower Era vs. The Instagram Age

How attracting customers has changed over the years

Attracting Customers In The Eisenhower Era vs. The Instagram Age

October 9, 2019

You’ve heard the old stories around the car lot from automotive sales veterans. Attracting car buyers to the dealership took some serious ingenuity. In his book, The American Car Dealership, author Robert Genat takes us in the way-back machine and explores the plight of a clever dealer’s path to getting customers into new cars.

The automotive market is brimming with intelligent marketing tools. They serve up the data points needed to provide personalized deals that nudge buyers towards your car lot. Data mining technologies give you precise knowledge on which customers to reach out to, at exactly the right time.

This was not the case in 1958. So, the sales staff of Hodges Auto Sales of Ferndale in Michigan developed a novel system for drumming up intel on potential car buyers. To illustrate this ingenuity, let’s follow our 5-time salesman of the month through his 1950’s strategy.

Reaching out

Each morning, Joe rushes off to mail out a number of postcards to prospective buyers. That number – 18,000, give or take, mailed each month – very well may have been the birth of ‘spray and pray’. These mailers announced that Joe would be calling in three to four days’ time. So, a few days later, the customer receives a call that provokes them to reveal something about their disposition towards the purchase of a fancy new vehicle. To button up the call, Joe offers a cheerful “would you like your new car this week or next?”


At this point, our tireless hero has two objectives:
1.) Make an appointment, preferably at the prospect’s home.
2.) Ascertain the lady of the house’s favorite color.
The challenge was to figure out the wife’s color preference without explicitly asking. Joe had to be crafty to suss this out indirectly. You can be sure that many clever and creative tactics were employed to discover this coveted information.

Reel ‘em in

You see, once Hodges Auto realized that women tended to have the final say in automobile purchases, they used that “data” to guide their approach. Scheduling appointments at a time where the wife would see a shiny two-toned car in her driveway might make her more receptive. The actual deal, however, wouldn’t be closed there. Mr. and Mrs. Two Toned would be invited to meet some of Joe’s bosses at the dealership and the sale would be completed there.

This strategy worked. Hodges made 17% of total Chrysler sales in the Detroit area at that time.

Sounds laborious and a little strange, right? It’s not that different from the hoops that you have to jump through. Instead of hoops, it’s mountains of information housed in numerous databases, all to help you manage both the very motivated buyer and the not-so-into-it influencer of the household.

Many of the same pain points linger today, but technology now exists to remedy them. Access to data and the ability to analyze buying behaviors allow you to go far beyond a car’s color in personalizing for each consumer. Communications tools at the store level make providing a smooth customer experience easy for staff in real time. Geolocation technology can give the modern dealer opportunities to intervene when buyers are looking elsewhere. Even direct mail can pinpoint messaging to just those customers identified as in a ready-to-buy position. No more filling out 18,000 postcards to random leads every month by hand.

Hodges Auto Sales killed it back in the day. But casting a wide net cost them time and effort, weeding through thousands of leads to reach the right buyer at the right time. Today, you can contact specific customers who are able to trade keys into a new vehicle - even without knowing a spouse’s favorite color.

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